One week after dropping a heartbreaking double-OT loss to the Denver Nuggets, the Grizzlies are once again prepping for a game in the Mile High City. The Grizzlies are fresh off a pair of wins against Portland and now have their eyes set on getting revenge against the Nuggets. This is the final game of the Grizzlies 7-game road trip, and while they’ve already guaranteed a winning record I’m sure they would love to finish it 5-2. The Grizzlies should have two key pieces they didn’t have in last Monday’s loss in Jaren Jackson Jr. and Jonas Valanciunas; while the Nuggets will be without Will Barton, who poured in 28 points, including Denver’s first 13, in their win.
To see things from the other side of this matchup, I spoke with the gracious and talented writer for Denver Stiffs, Gage Bridgford.
You guys have played 6 games since the Jamal Murray injury, what’s been the biggest adjustment made since he went down?
The biggest adjustment has been in how Murray’s absence has affected the guard rotation. The team traded away Gary Harris & R.J. Hampton at the deadline for Aaron Gordon. Before Murray’s injury, they had the depth to withstand that trade. Since the trade, they’ve lost Murray, Monte Morris has missed time and Will Barton is now out for an extended amount of time. This has forced the bench guards into starting minutes which impacts the bench’s effectiveness and increases the workload of starters when the bench struggles.
Staying on the injury subject, how big of a hit is the Will Barton injury to the Nuggets?
It might be bigger than the Murray injury. Losing one of the two, Murray would be the bigger blow, but, with Murray out, Barton was going to have to become the other scorer and lead ball-handler alongside Nikola Jokic. Now, with the both of them out, the team is really going to be hurting for ball-handling on both units. Barton’s scoring and ball-handling would help replace Murray to some degree, and they are going to have to hope he’s able to get back in a hurry.
What’s the realistic expectation for you guys this season?
The expectation, with all of the injuries, is that this team could make it to the second round depending on the matchup and the health of their opponent. Right now, the luck has not been on Denver’s side with team just ahead of them in the standings winning to maintain their lead. They’re likely going to finish in the 4-5 range which pits them against the Los Angeles Lakers. If the Lakers are healthy, Denver is likely getting bounced in the first round. When you lose your second-best player, that isn’t a big surprise.
Nikola Jokic is the odds-on favorite for MVP this season. How much have you all enjoyed watching him develop into the dominant player he is now?
It’s a ton of fun. The craziest part is this is essentially the same player that we watched last year. The only difference is his 3-point shooting has gotten better. He is making the same passes and scoring at the same level that he was last season. He’s just getting more media coverage. The ascension that he is on could make him one of the absolute best bigs of all time.
These two teams played to Double-OT a week ago, what was your biggest takeaway from that game?
De’Anthony Melton remains one of the best throw-in pieces of trades over the last few years. The guy went 6-10 from 3-point range, and he just couldn’t miss. I felt like every time he shot the ball it was going in. If he has another game like that, Denver is going to be in some trouble.